Featured species: Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus)
Some months ago we saw a social networks' report of a sleeping Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) on the grounds of Panama Rainforest Discovery Center at Pipeline Road. We had our day jobs up to date so we rushed immediately to the place with the sole purpose of photographing this rarely seen species. Knowing the habits of the species is critical to make photos, and we knew we won't have an opportunity like this again in the near future.
The silky anteater, or pygmy anteater, is the smallest of the three species of anteaters found in Panama but it's also found in Central America and South America, including Trinidad island. It's the only living species in the genus Cyclopes and the family Cyclopedidae, and its binomial name refers to both, the circular feet and the presence of two claws on the fore feet. In Spanish, it's commonly known by many names depending on the country, like: serafín de platanar, hormiguero dorado o enano, angelito, ceibita, flor de balsa, into pelejo, and gato balsa and tapacara (in Panama).
One claw is easily visible while the second is much smaller
Being a nocturnal species the individual was still sleeping as expected, his pose was not very photogenic so we waited until he decided to accommodate in a different pose. While it did so, we took the opportunity to prune some lianas that were blocking our view. Of course, without disturbing the animal. During the day, they typically sleep curled up in a ball. Although they are rarely seen in the forest, they can be found more easily when they are foraging on lianas at night.
This species has the ability to almost encircle a branch to which it is clinging
At some moment it felt our presence and adopted a defensive stance clinging on its hind legs and holding its fore feet close to its face so it can strike with its sharp claws if there were a predator trying to get close, a habit that earned this species the common name of "tapacara" (face-cover).
Silky anteaters are nocturnal and arboreal, found in lowland rainforests with continuous canopy, gallery forest, and mangrove forest, where they can move to different places without the need to descend from trees. It is a slow-moving animal and feeds mainly on ants, and other insects, such as termites and small coccinellid beetles.
It is a solitary animal and gives birth to a single young. The young are born already furred, and with a similar colour pattern to the adults. They begin to take solid food when they are about one-third of the adult mass. The young is usually placed inside a nest of dead leaves built in tree holes, and left for about eight hours each night.
Some authors suggest the silky anteater usually dwells in silk cotton trees (genus Ceiba) and maybe even balsa trees (Ochroma pyramidale), because of its resemblance to the seed pod fibers of these trees, it can use the trees as camouflage and avoid attacks of predators such as hawks and, especially, harpy eagles.
After hours expecting it to do something interesting we left the place and apparently it was not seen again the day after. Although, general deforestation is taking place over many parts of its range, it remains widespread in the Amazon Basin and there are currently no major threats to the survival of this small anteater. Unfortunately, in some areas it is captured and kept as a pet species but it usually does not survive long in captivity.